For this particular blog post, I chose to collaborate with my good friend, Joy. The idea sparked after a conversation we had a few months ago about ethnicity, and how it has personally impacted us. During our conversation, I was shocked to discover how we experience many of the exact same feelings! We both struggled with not feeling good enough, or being considered illegitimate:
For Joy– being viewed as “talking white/acting white despite her skin color”.
For myself–being considered “‘too white’ or ‘too black'” depending on my appearance or my mannerisms.
Even though our stories are different, our encounters with microaggressions all boiled down to one main idea:
As we sat and talked about our experiences, it was difficult, but it was so meaningful to talk to another person who understood exactly how my uncomfortable experiences felt (and vice versa). I could go on and on about our conversation, but I digress. All of this being said… Let’s get to the content of this post. Thank you, Joy, for contributing to my blog, sharing your story, and for being a part of this journey with me.
Inadequacy is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as, ” too low in quality or too small in amount; not enough“. So many people go through their lives feeling like they are not good enough. For myself and Joy, this feeling has dominated in our identities. (For more context on Joy’s background refer to Hello, my name is…).
One conversation I had a few weeks ago brought up this sense of inadequacy. I would like to preface by saying that I’m sure this person didn’t realize what they were saying in the moment. Their comments weren’t intended to be hurtful. Nevertheless, it was still an awkward conversation:
Person: “So what is your identity? What is your racial makeup?”
Me: “I’m half black & half white.”
Person: “I never would’ve guessed you’re part black!”
Me: “Oh haha…”
Person: “I guess I never would’ve thought your half black because my biracial friend is really outgoing and extroverted, and you’re more timid!”
(And let the dialogue begin! My voice is in black text, and Joy’s voice is in blue text)
I don’t know how I’m supposed to respond to conversations like this. I feel like I need to apologize for my appearance or my personality. Or preface my “big reveal” with, “I know I don’t look it, but I am half black!”
In my experience, it has been “I never would’ve guessed you’re African!” Well yeah, the absence of an accent and puzzling odor makes it hard to tell, huh? Now, I’m sure that most people who find out that I immigrated to the States from Zimbabwe don’t think that. Additionally, I would like to believe that people never think those things but that just wouldn’t be true now would it?
Why is my appearance so important, or so puzzling? Why do I need to be “figured out”? Why does it matter?
Honestly, most of the time I hate saying I’m mixed, because (more often than not) some people make 75% of conversations with me about race or their “mixed friend” or a “biracial friend of a friend’s”.
If I do happen to disclose my origin to a person that knows someone who is African, a painstakingly ignorant conversation may ensue. I’m weary of when someone brings up the fact that they know a Kenyan, Congolese, etc. This unease stems from the often negative assumptions people have of Africans: lazy, uneducated, smelly. These assumptions sometimes rear their ugly heads in the conversation.
I don’t like saying who I am because my heritage becomes the sole topic of conversation. The conversation begins to hint at how I’m not like other black people and how I behave differently than what is assumed. I’m then reminded of how different I am, and how (for lack of a better term) much of a “black sheep” I am.
I’d love to say, “Trust me, I know! I look different, I’ve felt different–no need to remind me.”
Within my own Zimbabwean community I am reminded of how American I am all the time. Granted, I was 11 months old when I came here and was raised here but it still hurts to feel that some members of my own ethnic community view me as less than, or not Zimbabwean enough. I’ve felt this pull on either side all my life: not being African enough in some circles and not being American enough in others.
There is this constant tug and pull: not being black enough, not being white enough (or in Joy’s case, not being “American” enough). What it all boils down to is this feeling of inadequacy… feeling like we’re not enough at the core of who we really are. It is at our core–who we are, what we believe, and what we believe about ourselves–where we feel the hurt of these comments so strongly. Sometimes its the little remarks that shake us the most.
It’s not that race doesn’t matter, and that people should be color blind. I think color blindness is ignorant–it is necessary to understand how someone’s ethnic background has impacted them and influenced the person they are today. My biracial identity is a crucial part of who I am. And I am enough, I am not “too black”or “too white”, I am who I am.
More to come on this in a later blog, but my blackness is enough! Systemic racism, police brutality, and other injustices affect me just as much as the next black girl. Where I am from, where I was raised, and my personality doesn’t take away from that fact. As a matter of fact, it adds to it. Think of the world as a canvas: without color it would be quite dull. ALL colors make it pop!
Exactly! Diversity adds so much richness to the world. There is so much we can learn by simply listening to other people’s stories. Their experiences have formed them into the person they are today, and others can become more educated about ethnicity through listening to their testimony.
Our backgrounds have impacted our realities and caused some pain in the past, BUT, we hope others can see us at our core. Not just, “the Zimbabwean girl who ‘talks white'” and not just, “the mixed girl who looks fill in the blank (every ethnicity but my own)”. See us for how we care, fulfill our purpose, and how we will use our identities to educate others. Those are essentially important to us, and those goals are at the heart of who we are.
Preach it, sis!
Special thank you to Kaitlin Lutz for the wonderful photos. Thanks for your willingness, creativity, and for dealing with our craziness! 🙂